The Rostow Report by Ann Rostow

QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT PRESIDENT

I just reread my last column, written in the wee hours of November 4, and relived the intoxicated stress of election night. All I can say is I’m glad that’s over. Yes, we now face nearly two more months of dodging bullets from Trump and the crazies he has gathered into his orbit. But after that, the healing will begin. 

And I still have one more bottle of Champagne in reserve which I hope to drink on January 5 after the Georgia Senate results. Failing that, I’m popping the cork on January 20. And I’m not waiting until noon.

For the record, America elected somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 GLBT candidates for public office. I remember the days we used to trumpet numbers like “6” or “21!” Now, as I wrote elsewhere, part of me wonders if all 220 of them are people I would support. I gather some 14 percent of GLBT voters hit the Trump button, which suggests that perhaps a handful of our newly elected community members might not conform to my political tastes. That said, since I’m not going to do any research on this subject, I welcome them all with open arms. Yay GLBT candidates!

Oh, and Biden has named a gay man (Carlos Elizondo) as his social secretary, which begs the question: why haven’t all our White House social secretaries been gay men?


CONVERT THIS!

Meanwhile, there are some things not even Joe Biden and his team of consummate professionals can cure. Specifically, Trump judges.

The big piece of legal news this month is an unpleasant decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Famously conservative, the twelve-person appellate court that governs Georgia, Florida and Alabama is now dominated by Trump appointees, who make up half the bench. It was not surprising therefore, that a recent three-judge panel considering a local law in Florida that banned conversion therapy was composed of two Trumpy judges and one Obama judge. The panel split 2-1 in recommending a preliminary injunction to suspend the gay-friendly law in question.

According to Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, some 20 states and over 85 localities now ban conversion therapy, particularly when used on minors. These attempts to change sexual orientation from gay to straight are now overwhelming condemned as harmful, in worst cases leading to suicidal thoughts, depression and despair. Two federal appellate courts have upheld laws against conversion therapy, and the Eleventh Circuit ruling is the first on this level to deny these laws support.

There’s also a lesbian Christmas romcom with Kristen Stewart on Hulu called “Happiest Season,” that sounds worthwhile if you like holiday movies, which I do for atavistic reasons I don’t care to examine.

The panel reasoned that the ban on conversion therapy violated the Free Speech rights of the licensed therapists who were targeted by the law. Some might argue that just as you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, the Constitution doesn’t allow a counsellor to employ dangerous therapies in violation of a local ordinance. At the very least, the locality or state should be able to illustrate that such an ordinance is narrowly tailored to an important public interest, a test that outweighs individual First Amendment rights. 

Here, the panel determined that the damage caused by conversion therapy has not been proven by rigorous analysis, leaving the Florida county lawmakers without the public interest hook. But, as the dissenting judge noted, that purported lack of evidence is due in part to the fact that studying the effect of conversion therapy on children is considered unethical, much as an evaluation of a new drug would be stopped the moment it appeared that said drug was causing more harm than good.

The case now returns to the lower court for further hearings on the preliminary injunction that will halt the law while litigation continues. The lower court, having been forced to issue the injunction, will then decide the merits of the underlying case. Of course, the Florida counties can appeal this recent ruling to the full Eleventh Circuit, or to the Supreme Court. However, considering the make-up of both these courts of review, our prospects look glum. 


SHOP ‘TIL WE DROP

Speaking of the First Amendment, I read that Norway outlawed hate speech against transgender men and women, beefing up a law that has banned hate speech against gays and lesbians since 1981. Many European countries have laws like this, which I have always viewed from an American perspective, as being antithetical to fundamental rights. After all, I thought with smug satisfaction, we settle these matters in the “marketplace of ideas,” where hate speech is countered, not with laws and bans, but with superior reason and empathy. 

I still maintain a preference for our Constitution. But grudgingly so. It feels as if the “marketplace of ideas” is no longer a grand bazaar where everyone joins in commerce, but a compartmentalized mall where one group frequents the shops on the MAGA and QAnon level, and another browses through the book shelves and wine stores on another floor entirely. We’ve never had to actually enact a law that bans yelling “fire” in the theater. Must we start considering the idea?

I’ll wait to answer that question until I see how the next two years take shape, and whether or not any of these strange Trumpy news channels establish a hold on a significant chunk of the country.


PASS THE GROG

I see that Britain has installed a couple of statues of two 18th Century female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who one press source said “ broke gender boundaries and stunned people at the time.” Part of the motive seems to involve a dearth of statues commemorating women, and I’m guessing the fact that these two had an affair and dressed as men gives them an added cachet. That said, they killed people and also had lots of affairs with men. Indeed, when they were captured, they both avoided execution because they were pregnant. 

I’m also not sure why “pirates” enjoy a fun swashbuckling reputation, while regular old thieves and killers do not, but there you go. I’d also think the powers that be in Britain could locate other women that deserve monuments—poets, doctors, inventors—rather than elevate these n’ere do wells.  


THE SEASON!

What else is new? I’m losing count of the gay Christmas movies. I just saw a trailer for a gay cowboy movie, “Dashing in December,” on the Paramount Network, coming your way December 13. I just checked my cable provider here in Austin, and this network, which I had yet to encounter, is channel “69,” a good omen. There’s also a lesbian Christmas romcom with Kristen Stewart on Hulu called “Happiest Season,” that sounds worthwhile if you like holiday movies, which I do for atavistic reasons I don’t care to examine.

Finally, two famous gay penguins from Sydney, Magic and Sphen, have successfully hatched another chick, two years after hatching their first. The devoted pair tried to hatch a rock when they first got together. When that effort proved beyond their abilities, zoo keepers gave them an egg that had been abandoned by an evidently careless pair of heterosexual penguins. That chick is now nearly grown and made an unsuccessful effort to hatch her own chick this year.  

Magic and Sphen are not to be confused with the Dutch gay penguins who stole an egg from a lesbian couple. The chick-nappers were unable to hatch the egg, since, for obvious reasons, it had not been fertilized. Serves them right. 


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